The call of the slippery slopes

SNOW JOKE: Skiing or supping?

IT defies logic that a rational human being would attach a long plank of wood to each foot, point them down a slippery precipice and take off.

Perhaps it is the thrill of dicing with death in this otherwise so controlled life most of us lead that leads millions of us to take to the ski slopes each year. This week I am writing from the tops of the Tyrol mountains in Austria.

It’s been a while since I ski-ed, and believe me, it is not like riding a bicycle; first of all I am more petrified of imminent death than I was in my twenties.  Time, if nothing else, makes you aware of your own mortality: It’s an awfully long way down… 

“Bend zee knees!” Our fearless instructor Hans bellows, which doesn’t really help since I would need them to stop shaking like a tree in a hurricane first, but since Hans is rather dashing (a prerequisite for this profession judging by the parade of strapping lads and the ladies on these slopes), I try my best.  “Put zee feet together!” comes the next instruction when it is my turn, something I do much in the style of lame elephant. 

“Can we stop for some Gluhwine now?”  I lead the rebellion, pointing my pole vigorously towards a little wooden hut nearby, and I have a few backers in the group. I figure that this drink must have been invented to glue your skis together if only I can carefully spill the sticky sweet liquid in the right place.

But Hans is not to be swayed: “Nein!” Audible sighs follow from my fellow would-be mutineers, but since our chances of making it down the mountain without Hans are slim to none, we mournfully bid farewell to the tempting little cafe on the piste. 

Now, I am all for the après-ski, but it does infer that you have to do your duty on the skis before graduating to the multiple bars, restaurants and shops in this quaint ski village.  Still, as Hans shepherds us towards the next chairlift for another round of slide and tumble, I mumble my apologies and take off with a speed and finesse hitherto unseen in my skiing.  As I bee-line towards a bar I can still hear Hans baffled voice behind me: “But, it haz only been one hour…?” 

I am in fact all in favour of skiing, as long as my vantage point is from the warmth of a cafe, where I can peruse all those nimble skiers and snowboarders at my leisure while sipping a nice glass of wine and reading the paper.  I get enough of a work-out from shlepping my skis and poles in an unruly mess from the Chalet to the ski-stand; it’s really a Herculean effort and I wonder why golfers get caddies for a simple bag of clubs, when us skiers have to stumble around with these planks with feet stuck in the rigid contraptions of ski-boots.

As the daylight fades, we all return to the open fire with stories of the day’s adventure.  Everyone else appears so animated about it, I can’t really admit to bailing out: “Oh, great! Yes, I really managed to hone those parallel turns!” I hide my newly-manicured nails and shuffle the shopping bags under the table.

Just then, the manager appears; “Frau Marshall, Hans called to ask if you will be joining the ski group tomorrow?  He was very concerned that you had taken ill, when you left so early this morning.”  Oh, well…

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